CultureCurious John

Curious John

English Service host John Van Trieste is curious. There’s nothing about Taiwan’s many cultures that he doesn’t want to know more about. Join him every week as he gets to the bottom of yet another question. What will he be curious about this time?

What's On

11 July, 2020
Cafe Astoria- A Taste of Old Russia in Taipei

Cafe Astori is an unexpected piece of old Russia right here in the middle of the Taipei. The menu includes fare once reserved for the czars themselves-- but that’s far from the cafe’s only selling point. Through its many years, its bakery and upstairs cafe have become a Taipei institution, frequented by past generations of political VIP’s and Taiwanese literary giants alike. Even today, it’s a popular spot to hang out with a good book. Karen Chien, the cafe’s current proprietor is a busy person, but she’s graciously taken some time to talk with us today about what’s become a family business and a unique fusion of Russia and Taiwan. 

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04 July, 2020
The Lulin Observatory

Every night, high in the mountains of Taiwan’s rugged center, a lone astronomer sits in an observatory control room  monitoring the night sky. It’s solitary work, but for those who wish to unlock the secrets of the universe, it’s work that must be done. Here, the darkness of night is the kind of profound black that most modern people have forgotten, and the stars hang vividly in the cold, deep mountain air. Welcome to the Lulin Observatory, the place the astronomical community turns to when the rest of the world is bright with the sun. Site engineer Mr. Chang has helped bring back much of the observatory’s equipment from abroad and adapted it to Taiwan’s rugged interior. He joins us today for an overview of the observatory’s work and an explanation of the critical role Taiwan has to play in making our view of the night sky complete.

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27 June, 2020
The Baishatun Mazu Procession

The sea goddess Mazu is deeply revered in Taiwan, and even COVID-19 has proved no match for the devotion people here feel for her. While the marathon processions held in her honor had to be postponed earlier in the year, Taiwan's early success fighting the disease means that they can now go ahead. It may not be the most famous overseas, but the Baishatun Mazu pilgrimage, set to begin in just a few days, is certainly one of the fastest-growing of these processions. This event goes back a few hundred years. But it's only in recent times that it's grown from an obscure, regional show of piety into an event where tens of thousands gather. What's the story behind this procession? Why has it suddenly gotten so big? And what measures are in place this year to keep COVID-19 at bay? I've called up Mr. Chen, a leading figure at the temple behind the event, to find out.

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20 June, 2020
The Dream Map: Kangxi Taiwan Maps Family Reunion”

Plenty of mapmakers down the centuries have turned their attention to Taiwan. But none have left behind a map as beautiful or mysterious as whoever it was that made the Kangxi Taiwan Map. We know that this map was painted in imperial China several hundred years ago. And it doesn’t take a critic’s eye to see that it has artistic as well as geographical merit.  It’s as much a painting as it is a map, and it’s no surprise that it’s been declared one of Taiwan’s national treasures. But that’s about where our knowledge of the map ends. Adding to the mystery is the fact that a large chunk of the original has been damaged beyond repair. All we have to go on to tell us what that part once looked like are two copies from the early 20th century. And these copies turn out to be riddled with errors. This hasn’t stopped experts from trying to reconstruct what the original looked like when still intact, though. And the results of this effort to re-envision how the map once looked are now on display in the National Taiwan Museum- next to the damaged original and the two later copies. That’s in a new exhibit called “The Dream Map: Kangxi Taiwan Maps Family Reunion”. 

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13 June, 2020
Geothermal Power in Taiwan

Taiwan has set itself an ambitious goal: wean itself off nuclear power and generate enough electricity from renewable resources to meet 20% of its power needs. The timetable for this goal? 2025. To reach such a difficult target, Taiwan will have to tap into every renewable resource it has. That includes wind and solar energy, or course, but also less visible sources, including one right beneath our feet. Taiwan is a tectonically active land, with plenty of hot springs and even a volcano or two. So what kind of potential does it have to generate geothermal power? There’s hardly a better person to put these kinds of questions to than Professor Song Sheng-Rong of National Taiwan University’s Department of Geosciences. He’s a member of multiple geothermal power organizations, advises on geothermal projects, and is part of an editorial committee for an academic geothermal power journal. And he's here today to talk about how much geothermal power Taiwan can hope to make.

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